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USMNT: Gold Cup Preview

USMNT

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Finally the time is upon us. The 2015 international soccer tournament we have all been waiting for since the 2014 World Cup wrapped up last year in Brazil. The U.S. Men’s National Team enters the CONCACAF sponsored Gold Cup as the defending champions and expectations have never been higher as they look to retain their well-deserved title.

The USMNT is slotted into Group A, one of three groups that will determine who advances to the knockout rounds of the tournament. They are joined in Group A by Panama, Haiti, and Honduras. The USMNT will face Honduras first, tonight at 9:3pm EST in Dallas, Texas. Their second match of group play will pit them against Haiti on Friday at 8:30 pm EST in Foxborough, Massachusetts. In their third and final match of group play, they will face Panama in Kansas City, Missouri at 9:30 pm EST. If they prove successful in advancing out of a strengthened Group A, they will either play July 18th or 19th. If all goes according to plan and the U.S. reaches the final, as many expect them to, they would play July 26th in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with a chance to become back-to-back champions.

Let’s go back a shade before looking too much further into what may or may not happen. Most recently the USMNT ordered up a 4-0 squashing of a far inferior Guatemalan side in an international friendly this past Friday.  Though the result of their tune-up match versus Guatemala dictates a blowout, the match did not leave a good taste in the mouths of the players or coaching staff. This is not necessarily a bad thing the way I see it. This shows the coaches, players, and the fans that were likewise critical of the performance are hungry for more. No longer is mediocrity acceptable when it comes to this team and matches that truly matter.

One thing that was evident in the lineup head coach Jurgen Klinsmann chose and the substitutions he made after the half was that this match operated as a way to determine who might and might not fit into starting/reserve roles come tournament time. The US side struggled at times with possession and defense immediately in front of the goal. This may have been in part due to the absence of both Kyle Beckerman and Alejandro Bedoya, who were held out of the match for their respective reasons. Also, this match served as the first time in a while that Omar Gonzalez and John Brooks were paired together in central defense. We can expect Beckerman to start tonight and that the time our two central defenders spent together will help them gel more in the coming matches. We will soon find out what changes Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann deems necessary when he puts out tonight’s starting lineup.

Here are some other storylines and things to watch for both tonight and throughout the tournament:

Gyasi Zardes and Graham Zusi seem to be in competition for the same minutes on the wing. Zusi in his appearance against Guatemala was largely ineffective and looked a step behind on most runs of play. Conversely, Zardes looked dynamic, creative in the final third and able to make connecting passes with his midfield and forwards. Look for Zardes to get the start on the wing tonight but who knows what might happen over the course of what could be six total matches.

Omar Gonzalez, John Anthony Brooks, Evan Ream, and Ventura Alvarado are all viable options to start and earn significant minutes at the center back position. This is a storyline that will be closely monitored throughout the tournament. Which pairing will prove to be the most stable? Will the U.S. defense be tested much as their opponents are expected to play in more defensive formations? I do not know what combination JK will primarily go with but it is almost all but sure to include John Brooks.

DeAndre Yedlin and Fabian Johnson are two of the main contributors to the USMNT, but they are also two players who still do not have defined roles within the construct of the 23-man roster. Many of those who closely follow the team believe Johnson should be used at no other position but the LB position, because of how consistent he is and the great attacking runs he makes putting the in dangerous situations offensively. Also keeping him in the back four makes practical sense because the team has greater depth in the midfield. Others are of the mind that he could be even better at the LM position, which would provide someone else the chance to show what they have to offer at left back.

The results have been mixed with Johnson at left mid as it seems he if often left out of the attack. At left back his impact is always evident. Yedlin’s situation is similar, but his more natural position might be at RM rather than RB. This allows him to use his pace and have less defensive responsibility tying him to deeper play. It will be interesting to see where Klinsmann chooses to play both of these key players moving forward.

This tournament presents an opportunity for many players, but maybe none more so than for Jozy Altidore. I list him in reference to opportunity because his club status is now stable (the reverse of what it used to be when he was playing for Sunderland) and his country status is undergoing some questioning (also opposite of what it used to be). For Altidore there has been a lot of leeway given for him to prove who he is and what he means to this team. One need not go back any further than last year’s World Cup to see how much his absence hurts the U.S. chances of being successful.

However, things within the player pool are changing.

More and more options at the forward position are sprouting up system wide from a resurgent Bobby Wood, who now has a good club situation to assimilate into, to the wunderkind Jordan Morris to a now healthy and hungry Terrence Boyd. Altidore must show that he is irreplaceable in this tournament to solidify that he is the guy up top for the USMNT for years to come. He must use his signature hold up play to create goal scoring chances for himself and others if this team wishes to win.

These are just a few of the many storylines and important things to watch for as the tournament gets underway tonight. As storylines pop up and lineups are designated, we will assess it and talk about it more but for now let’s get ready for Match #1 on the USMNT’s way to defending their Gold Cup title and ultimately earning a spot in the coveted 2017 Confederations Cup.

 

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